The Music Industry and the Big Flip

A thought Regarding Clay Shirky's Article

Clay has written an article, "The Music Industry and the Big Flip" which I have no criticism of, but it raises some questions in my mind. It explains something that is lacking in music distribution on line, in simple terms the lack of any collaborative quality control. Music does not get spread across the internet with the same tracks as weblog entries and news articles, moded pictures and flash movies. It doesn't get voted on instantly, linked to by a few and piled to the front.

The questions is that is the collaborative filtering that he says is lacking a result of the way people perceive music? Music isn't something which always immediately sinks into the listeners head and they want to pass on. Frquently it takes a few listens for a piece of music to set in. Time gets in the way of the imediacy often found in weblog comments. This time isn't just reflected in the time taken to listen and absorb a piece of music, but also in the time taken to retrieve it.

Getting decent quality audio, in real time, is achievable using broadband connections, but it doesn't always happen. Bottlenecks elswhere in the web cause music to download badly. If you used Napster I'm sure you'll remember waiting hours for tracks to download - modern distribution methods aren't much better.

Why should this affect how people pass around music on the internet? I find it does for me because by the time I listen to something I've moved onto something else, and unless it's really caught my attention I'm not always going to go back and write about it.

Of course, I'm not the proto-blogger. I don't update my site with the same level of attention that a lot of the more journalistic bloggers do. Perhaps if I did my love of music would be more apparent on the site. Perhaps I would spend my time tracking down MP3s and posting links up help driving their fame up. Perhaps my point is irrelavent in Clay's argument. I just feel that people's perception to how they receive and pass on music also comes into play even when the technology is available.

Back in 1996 I was interviewed by Radio 1 about the future of Radio. If I recall correctly I warbled on about people being the DJs and the music delivery method also containing information on the music being played. I said that people would be able to filter and select their own 'show' from a huge range of music databases and catagorised.

The commercial side of the .com boom then kicked in and I never got a chance to finish what I was saying.

I've been working with ideas for collaborative music filtering for a while, but never quite had the right database. It started with a site called "MusicUK" which never saw the light of day, and was played around with for Warp Records but never achieved. PostEverything's 'Radio' player is the closest I've come to creating it so far, but it doesn't feature the feedback facilities that it needs... yet.

There are a large number of collaborative jukeboxes around, giving web interfaces to a user group to allow them to control what music is played in a shared environment. This, and PostEverything.com, both take advantage of the environment they are used in to create user participation. They take on board the imediacy of people's tastes to allow them to either skip past what they don't like, or dig deeper into what they do like, all whilst the music is playing.

These systems work well when the user understands them and cares enough to use them. Individual web jukeboxes don't have the depth of new music and breadth of users in them to fulfill Clay's idea of a collaborative filter for internet music. PostEverything isn't of a scale to allow that kind of collaborative filtering to work well, IMHO.

In the 8 years I've been working on the Internet I've seen the tools to make collaborative filtering of music to happen. I've also gained the skills to be able to implement it. Clay's article has inspired me to try and build it... watch this space.

published 2003.01.22 updated 2017.06.26
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